The Great British Baking Show

IMG_2596Everyone seems to love The Great British Baking Show, but I didn’t want to watch it. Then I got the flu and had nothing to watch…

I find most reality competition shows unbearably tense. And a show about amateur bakers in the English countryside seemed twee. I figured the show was popular because Americans love posh English people and country manor settings. You know what I find even more unbearably tense than reality competition shows? Posh English people and country manor settings.

The Great British Baking Show is twee, and also slightly tense, and it does take place, sort of, at a country manor. But watching it feels like opening a window into an alternate reality where decency prevails and sweet yeasted loaves are a mechanism of social harmony.

The contestants are home bakers who make cakes for friends and elaborate picnic pies for their grandchildren. They have regular human bodies and wrinkly skin. On the show, the racial backgrounds of the contestants receive little comment. We don’t get any lugubrious descriptions of complex families or odds overcome. There is an absence of sexist humor, although there is a preponderance of jokes about buns. No one talks about anyone being hot or not. The judges offer thoughtful comments about muffins and no one ever sneers.

As an American viewer, it feels like I’m watching an alternate reality, like the multicultural nature of modern England doesn’t need to be called to attention because England is just a multicultural country where everyone has access to a safety net — a triad of health care, schooling, and housing — that affords everyone the time to bake pies in their small West Yorkshire kitchens while their children play in the yard. I know the English post-War social state is more complicated than this, but this image of small domestic comforts available to everyone is a fairytale I’d like to believe in.

Which leads me to this bizarre assertion. I know it’s a stretch, but The Great British Baking Show is kind of like Hillary Clinton. There is nothing radical or transformative or revolutionary about a cooking show featuring the full complement of life in post-colonial England (Hillary Clinton). We know that British baked goods (Neo Liberal policies) are a product of England’s imperial past, and even if we didn’t already know it, the names of the sponges and serving dishes would probably tip us off. The contestant’s competitive bakes, each subjected to the scrutiny of over-indulged judges, doesn’t disrupt any hierarchies. The bakers practice their bakes on the weekends, each limited by the demands of their respective lives and responsibilities. It’s not radical. There is no revolution on the horizon. It’s both the bread and the circus. But when it comes down to it, it’s thoughtful and decent and everyone is trying their hardest.